July 11, 2013

Fresh from the Bookshelf: The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim (Book Review)

"Raised in an Old Order Mennonite community, Rachel Stoltzfus is a strong-willed single woman, content living apart from mainstream society until whispers stir the moment her belly swells with new life. Refusing to repent and name the partner in her sin, Rachel feels the wrath of the religious sect as she is shunned by those she loves most. She is eventually coerced into leaving by her brother-in-law, the bishop. But secrets run deep in this cloistered community, and the bishop is hiding some of his own, threatening his conscience and his very soul. When the life of Rachel’s baby is at stake, however, choices must be made that will bring the darkness to light, forever changing the lives of those who call Copper Creek home."

So reads the back cover of this newly released Inspirational Fiction book The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim --a modern retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic "The Scarlet Letter"Are you intrigued yet?
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Let me start by saying...I don't pick Amish (at they lump all Amish/Mennonite based books into) fiction to read for pleasure. It's not my style and I usually avoid it. Don't ask me why--I really don't even know. I just don't. LOL! But this book called to me. It said "give me a try" and I admit I was curious about the Nathaniel Hawthorne link.

The Mennonite community setting for this book works perfectly. Especially since it is set in modern times! It would have been impossible to pull off a strict old order society any other way. So that was brilliantly done. 

I actually want to go back and re-read The Scarlet Letter now just to compare the stories!

One of the first things you will notice about this book is the narrative voice--We see two "voices" in this book. The primary voice is that of the principle character Rachel. We "see" her thoughts, emotions, actions... everything through her telling of events. It's the second voice that is unusual as it is in the form of Amos, a newly deceased father of two of the other characters. And I do mean newly deceased. He is being buried in the first chapter! LOL! He seems to speak on behalf of his two son's Tobias and Jacob (both of whom are the main men of the story) and chimes in little random comments to help the reader get to know them more clearly. But I admit it took me a while to "get" him and his purpose to the story....I'm not sure I could even explain it. You just have to read it to understand.

The two lead females in this story are aptly named Rachel and Leah--identical twin sisters. Rachel moved in with Leah and her husband to help after Leah gives birth and is on bedrest. It is while she is living with her sister that everything (and by that--I mean THE incident) happens. In fact, the story seems to progress almost backwards in time as it starts AFTER Rachel's illegitimate baby is born and is several months old. And from there it slowly adds pieces of the past events in until you finally see everything clearly. It's a very clever way to tell the story.

This story tackles so much within it's pages. Not only do we get an in depth view of the Amish/Mennonite life (both of which the author clearly knows backwards and forwards) but it explores the complexities of lust, sin, betrayal, family loyalties, single parenting, conflict between medicine and religion, repentance and forgiveness. Talk about a griping story!

Did I mention the added layer of a mother having to deal with childhood cancer in her baby?  That aspect alone held me captive!

Even once I had determined for myself the answer to the burning question "Who is the father of Rachel's baby?" I didn't put it down--and not just because it wasn't over yet! No, by that time, I was rooting for some characters, hating others...not to mention cheering and crying as more of the plot unfolded.

And I do mean crying---there were times I just had tears trickling down my cheeks while I read.

The story ends with a definite twist (you won't see it coming!) but with a very satisfactory resolution.

This book would not be my typical selection off the shelf--but anytime I become emotionally involved with the characters, I have to give the book a perfect score! The Outcast most definitely earned 5 out of 5 stars with me and I am eager to see what comes next from the author!

If you like Amish Inspirational fiction--you will LOVE this book.
If you don't like Amish fiction, but enjoy inspirational fiction in general--I think you will still LOVE this book.

I applaud Ms. Petersheim for taking on multiple issues and not letting them get away from her. This book is NOT a light read (and not really for young girls due to subject matter)--but well worth your time and emotional investment.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale Press as part of their book review bloggers program. All opinions expressed are my own and I was not required to write a positive review.

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